Monday, December 3, 2012

Lindmier: "THE GREAT BLUE ARMY WAGON: The History of Wheeled Transportation in the Frontier Army""

[The Great Blue Army Wagon: The History of Wheeled Transportation in the Frontier Army by Thomas Lindmier (Carriage Museum of America, 2009). Oversize softcover, photos, drawings, notes, appendices, bibliography, index. 139 pp. ISBN:1-880499-19-3 $30]

From the Revolutionary period all the way into the early twentieth century, the  wagon comprised the primary wheeled transport of the U.S. Army. Thomas Lindmier's The Great Blue Army Wagon is a wonderful illustrated history and reference guide to these vital pieces of equipment, primarily the workhorse four and six mule wagons.

Lindmier begins his study with a brief history of the Quartermaster Department, an institution that took decades to become truly professional. In typical early American fashion, military parsimony was in order, with massive expansion during wartime and equally drastic contraction during the following peace. For the Revolution and much of the first half of the next century, the department was underequipped and understaffed, with private contractors the mainstay of army transport.

The author traces well the development of what would become the standard wagon design for the army, first the four mule wagon followed quickly by the six mule wagon, the latter being the main vehicle used during the Civil War and beyond, really being only replaced by twentieth century motorization. Descriptive detail is very dense in the study. Field adaptations (e.g. chain bracing of the side boards) are evaluated, as well as long standing challenges associated with functional improvements on an official level, a prime example being the development of an effective braking system. Some attention is also given to macro-level issues like regulations for how many wagons would be assigned to the various army formations within the order of battle.

Later chapters describe the campaign to come up with a lighter, more mobile, vehicle for service on the plains, the result being the Escort Wagon. Sections cover spring wagons, hand carts, water wagons, post wagons, and portable forges. Some unsuccessful designs, like the metallic floating wagon (a vehicle, tested during the Civil War and apparently found wanting, that would double as freight hauler and bridging equipment) and the Sully 'pursuit wagon' are also introduced. The large ten mule wagon was used only for a brief time before being retired before the Civil War.

The book is beautifully illustrated throughout. Full page photographs of the various vehicles afford readers an excellent opportunity to see them close up and fully equipped for use. Line drawings of the wagons as well as the harness system (with labeled parts) are also provided. Lindmier's footnotes indicate a great emphasis on research in primary contemporary sources, especially in government documents at the National Archives. A series of lengthy appendices go into even more minute detail on wagon specifications. A particularly interesting appendix (G) sporting paint swatches reminds readers accustomed to black and white photographic images, as well as the unpainted replicas seen in movies and elsewhere, just how bright and colorful army wagons were in appearance.

Complaints include a thin index and perhaps a bit too much reader prior knowledge assumption in places, but these are very minor. The Great Blue Army Wagon succeeds in all that it attempts. Perhaps they exist (and, to be honest, I've never sought one), but I don't recall ever coming across another study of Civil War era wagons with this much substance. I would recommend this fine history and reference guide to anyone with a specialized interest in horse and mule drawn army vehicles.

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